Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Fuel price rise keeps fishermen tied up

Multa Fidrus, The Jakarta Post, Tangerang

For almost one hour, Nano, 34, just sat silently in his boat. Looking straight out to sea, he completely ignored his fellow fishermen who had their boats tied up next to his on the Perancis River in Dadap village, Tangerang regency, Banten, on Saturday morning.

"This is not my own boat. Myself and four other fishermen just rent it and we share the takings. The boat's owner has decided not to send us out to sea for a while as costs have doubled since the fuel price increase," Nano said when asked by The Jakarta Post.

"I've no idea how I'm going to feed my wife and six kids as I won't be able to take the boat out beginning Monday," Nano said.

Nano is just one of thousands of fishermen from coastal villages in north Tangerang who have temporarily lost their sources of income after the government raised fuel prices by an average of 29 percent last Tuesday.

The fishermen are now living on loans from their employers.

The fishermen of Dadap regency earn between Rp 20,000 and Rp 30,000 per day. A night's catch is usually sold for Rp 350,000 at the local fish auction.

"We have to pay Rp 200,000 to the owner everyday in boat rental, plus all operating costs. We share the remaining Rp 150,000 between the five of us," Nano said.

The fishermen say their incomes have dropped by as much as 60 percent since the fuel price increase, forcing some of them to pawn their valuables just to feed their families.

Azhari, 46, a fisherman from Surya Bahari village in Paku Haji district was spotted by the Post carrying his 14-inch television set and a tape recorder to the local pawn shop.

"Since the price increases came into affect on March 1, I have not gone out fishing. My wife and children need to eat but I don't have the money. There is no other way, I have to pawn these," he told the Post.

He said many fisherman in the area had stopped going out to sea as the boat owners had ordered their boats tied up as the money earned from fishing was insufficient to cover operating costs since the price hikes.

A fish auction in the village, which is usually packed with buyers and fishermen, was quiet on Saturday morning. Many fishermen preferred to stay home.

"There is no other way to help fishermen. The government must lower fuel prices or provide a subsidy for fishermen," Madsuni, the chairman of the Surya Bahari Village Fishermen's Union, told the Post.

He said that a price increase of up to 5 percent would not burden the fisherman excessively.

"Before the price went up, all the fishermen here mixed diesel and kerosene so that they could continue working. But this increase is far too much and it has really paralyzed the fishing industry here," he said.

He stressed that if the government failed to provide a fuel subsidy for fishermen, many fishing enterprises would go bankrupt and fishermen would lose their livelihoods.

"The fuel price increase has not been followed by an increase in fish prices. What does the government want?" he said.